My Lady of Orange/Chapter 13
THE GARDEN AGAIN
Gabrielle had sung her song to me, there in the lonely alley behind the prison, and she went back slowly to the burgomaster's house. She left me so exultant that for the moment I wished nothing more, but her own heart was very heavy. They tell us women bear heavy sorrow better than men; but cordieu! I think it is because they have so much -that they learn to bear it quietly, and the grief that makes a man cry out, goes deeper, too deep in a woman. It is only the little things that women tell of.
She went back sad-eyed, and in the house met her father.
"I have written to the Prince, Gabrielle," said he.
"Father, you think—you believe he will take your word?" she cried.
"I cannot give my word when I know nothing," St. Trond answered. "I have said I did not believe John Newstead capable of this, and that Colonel van Cornput seemed to me over hasty before the trial began. But the evidence has gone to the Prince too, and he must be the judge."
"But he must be saved! The Prince must save him!"
"The Prince is just," said St. Trond.
"When he has done so much, to condemn him on a lying paper like that! Oh, I hate Colonel van Cornput!"
"He did what he thought right," St. Trond repeated.
"I hate him! I hate him!" she cried, stamping her foot. "Oh, why did this thing ever come? He had freed us from the Spaniards, and I thought our troubles were over. And then this—this dreadful thing—the bravest man in Breuthe—oh, it is hard, hard. And no one knows how it will end—it is all dark! And I—I—ah, I cannot help him!" she sobbed.
"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" said St. Trond slowly.
She went to her own room and lay on the bed and wept. Then the fancy took her to go out into the garden and sit again on that stone seat in the wall, where not many days ago she sat for the first time at my side. She had not been there long when Vermeil came up and swept her a low bow.
"Mademoiselle, I have come but to tell you that I in my feeble way have been doing my best to save our captain," quoth he.
"Ah! you—you were not one of those who tried him?"
"Indeed no, mademoiselle: that honour was reserved for my lieutenant. Perhaps if I had been one of those wise judges I should have thought death a punishment over heavy for the man who saved Breuthe."
"What have you done?" she asked eagerly.
"Why, I have stated my views, with such clearness as I was capable of, to Colonel van Cornput, our worthy and wise Governor. I have ventured to write a letter to our General, the Prince of Orange, and I have been striving to obtain a petition from our men begging that the death penalty may be spared. And let me tell you, mademoiselle, a petition from two hundred men-at-arms is not to be treated lightly."
"Do you hope to save him?" she cried.
"Indeed, mademoiselle—may I sit?—I am not without hopes, though candour compels me to admit that the offence is not a small one, and the Prince may view an attempt on his own life less lightly than I," quoth Vermeil, crossing his legs and looking sideways at her face.
"What? You—you too think him guilty?" cried Gabrielle.
"Mademoiselle, I should be as willing as you to believe him innocent!" said Vermeil quickly. "Ah! it grates upon my conscience to think that my captain should be a traitor!" Gabrielle drew close into a corner of the seat. "I would not believe it at first: I cried out that it could not be! I drove from the room the man who told me! I quarrelled with Gaspar! We all but fought! But, mademoiselle, the facts, ah! the facts are too strong. He is a traitor. No captain of mine can he ever be again. I do not ask much from my leaders, but indeed, mademoiselle, honour I must have! What is a soldier without honour? And yet, and yet, mademoiselle, I loved the man, and because I loved him, and because he has fought well before he forgot his faith, I have done what I could to save him!" He stopped and looked at her, but she made no answer. "I fancied, mademoiselle," he went on; "1 fancied that you too had thought well of him, and you too might be glad to know there were efforts afoot to save him. Those efforts I will make to the utmost of my strength. It may be wrong to try to save a traitor's life; perhaps it is—I am no preacher, only a soldier and a man. His punishment will be heavy enough in life; it is not needful to take that too. Never again can he be our leader; dishonoured and dismissed, he must go his own way," and Vermeil's voice broke. "Yet, is it not just?" he cried sharply. "Is it not just that he should pay for the pain he has given others? I loved the man; I made him a very idol, and now he has shown me that my love, my honour, were ill-bestowed. Ah! there is pain in that, mademoiselle, such pain as I pray heaven you may never know."
"I have never known it," she cried quickly.
"I am glad, mademoiselle. May I go on?"
"Is there more?" she asked.
"Thus far, mademoiselle, I have answered your questions——"
"Why should he have done it?" she broke in.
"He had done Alva much harm, mademoiselle. He thought, as I guess, that it would be well to be on fair terms with Alva again, and this was the way he chose."
"In fear of Alva?" she cried. Vermeil bowed.
"And now, mademoiselle, I have answered your questions; will you let me ask one of you? I have been laying my mind bare to you to-day, and you see it and may judge it for what it is. You know my actions: I have shown you my thoughts, my feelings, my inmost desires. Ah! mademoiselle, save one, save one! And that—can you guess it?—perhaps—that is to be able to say, Here am I who have fought in fifty fights and never lost one, here am I, the husband of Gabrielle!"
He ended with a flourish of his hand and a bow. She sat silent for a moment and then turned:
"I will tell you," she said, looking him full in the face. "I will answer you when you have set your captain free!"
He started back, and his colour changed. His eyes flashed angrily at her, and he caught at her arm. A step sounded on the path; he started, rose and walked quickly into the house. Then, with a long sigh of relief, Gabrielle turned, to see Gaspar standing over her, with his lips curled into a sneer.
"So times are changed, eh, mistress?" said he gruffly, looking from her to Vermeil's retreating figure.
"May I choose my companions, sir?" she asked coldly.
"Gott! yes, choose the devil if you like. I wonder how the captain ever came to choose you?"
"Do you dare to taunt me? You who condemned him to death?" she cried.
"The arrow goes by, mistress. Talk of what you know. Or what you see—like me. I did no condemning."
"You—you did not think him guilty?" she cried.
"God in heaven! as if you cared! What odds to a light o' love who is in another man's arms in two days?"
"‘So times are changed, eh, mistress?' said he gruffly."
"It is a lie!" she cried, springing up and fronting him. "It is a lie! I would not have him touch me with a finger-tip!"
"So; he was close enough," grunted Gaspar. "Well, if I was wrong I take it back. Only, if you want to be worth the captain's taking, mistress, keep clear of Vermeil."
"Worthy of him?" she asked. "You believe in him still, then?" she cried quickly.
"Even so, mistress."
"Ah!" she caught his arm eagerly. "I am glad, very glad. Tell me why!" she cried, looking up into his face.
"Why? I am no speech-maker. Because I doubt that fine letter now. Because I did not think the captain would send me to be murdered—all that is idle. Because when that fool Zouch offered to take him out of prison he would not go. Is that like a guilty man?"
"Then it is proved, it is proved!" she cried gladly.
"Ach, no. What would our wise Cornput say to Zouch? Tell him it was all a trick to prove the captain's innocence, a trick he saw through, the wise Cornput. No; if you want to prove him innocent, don't tell me he is not the traitor, tell me who is!"
"And I can tell you!" she cried. "That man—the Frenchman——"
"Vermeil? Ach, I believe you. Prove it."
"He came to me when I was sitting here, and he began to talk of all he had done for—for him; and then he went on to say he thought him guilty; he said he had loved him, oh, he put in a lot of words, but they were false, false! And I let him go on and on, and asked him questions, and then at last—at last he asked me to marry him."
"Cui bono fuerit?" grunted Gaspar. "Ach, the wise Roman! But is that all, mistress?"
"He said that the reason for betraying the Prince was fear of Alva. Fear would not——"
"Move the captain? Ach, no; but 'tis the very thing to move Vermeil! It seems you have used some of the serpent's wisdom, eh, mistress?"
"I love him," she said, and Gaspar looked down at her and put his big red hand on her golden hair.
"I think he chose well, lass," said he quietly.
"Is it enough?" she asked.
"Ach, no. It is not doubts, and chances, and hints we want. They might serve to save his life. How much would he or you care for life if nine in ten think him a traitor?"
"You will not give him up!" she cried.
"By almighty God! No," he thundered. "But what to do next? I could kill Vermeil to-night—if that were useful. But dead men are dumb. And the letter? That was Alva's own game, I guess. Curse the crafty knave!"
A servant came down the garden and gave him a letter.
"Teufel! what's this? Host of the Yellow Pig? New arrival of old Rhenish wine? To the honourable Lieutentant Gaspar Wiederman? Hoping for his favour? Very best favour? Favour—flavour? Is the fool turned poet? Is this a time——? Ach, God in heaven!——Mine host, mine host, I will wait on the Yellow Pig!" and he ran off down the garden, leaving Gabrielle standing amazed.